Well, that didn’t last long. Thanks to blown layups, poor rebounding, pitiful execution and excessively repetitive and obnoxious techno music, Kentucky crapped the bed in their first game as a #1 team, losing in Columbia, 68-62. South Carolina’s Devan Downey stole the show with 30 points on 9-28 circus shots, upstaging DeMarcus Cousins’ 27 points and 11 rebounds. We’ll be back in a few with the full recap. In the meantime, don’t jump off a bridge. It’s only January.
– From the outset of the game, it was obvious that Calipari wanted his offense to move through the post. DeMarcus Cousins, who already accounts for a hefty number of touches, was the centerpiece of the offense and responded by going for 27 points and 11 rebounds. But, despite the big numbers of Cousins, the focus on the interior seemed to handicap the guards a little bit and John Wall and Eric Bledsoe didn’t appear to be a threat on the offensive end until Cousins went to the bench. For a period in the second half, the game seemed to be turned over to Wall but, as soon as he seemed to take control, the focus went back on running the offense through DeMarcus Cousins. What UK was left with was a one-dimensional offense that seemed void of a lot of movement and was certainly void of assists.
– Despite a focus on getting the ball to the post, Patrick Patterson was not good at all Tuesday night. Some of it wasn’t his fault (not getting the ball on offense) but much of it he could have controlled. He’s gotten into a habit the past few games of leaving his man and heading to the rim for a board rather than boxing out and hit bit him in the butt tonight. Most importantly, though, his defense at the end of the game as the man trapping Devan Downey was pitiful. Whether it was a product of being tired or not being prepared, he let Downey turn the corner without hardly even making him think about changing directions, leading to an easy layup and a couple advantages. His 5 points are actually productive considering how little he touched the ball. His 8 boards, though, are extremely misleading. Everyone’s entitled to an off game. Even Patrick Patterson.
– If there was one thing UK had going for themselves entering the game, it was the distinct size and rebounding edge they held over an undersized and overmatched South Carolina team. In the end, though, South Carolina would somehow beat UK on the boards. The Gamecocks had topped UK in both offensive and total rebounds, which Cal attributed to just wanting it more. From a more technical perspective, Kentucky’s guards don’t seem to be hitting the boards at all and DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and especially Daniel Orton often leave their man to chase a blocked shot. It certainly works sometimes. Tonight, it didn’t work so well.
– One of the many things that doomed Kentucky on this night was the handful of possessions killed by poor execution on the part of the Cats. The most glaring was the backdoor cut at the end of the game where the ball bounced off of John Wall’s hands out of bounds. The most painful, though, was the terrible alley-oop pass to Wall by Eric Bledsoe out of a timeout early in the second half. The momentum was clearly in favor of the Gamecocks and Coach Cal drew up the perfect play to silence the crowd. The Cats just didn’t execute. That was a heavy theme.l
– Late in the game, Darrin Horn took a page out of the 9th region playbook and slowed the game down. Devan Downey started just holding the ball at the top of the key and it threw Kentucky out of its rhythm. Or, what rhythm they had to that point. An interesting, but successful, move.
– I have never in my entire life seen a team miss as many layups as Kentucky did against South Carolina. John Wall missed one after breaking the ankles of that white guy that logged 5 minutes and then Eric Bledsoe attacked the rim only to decide he’d rather lay it in than dunk it….and missed it completely. To highlight of the blooper reel came courtesy of Darnell Dodson who played great fullcourt defense and then robbed a South Carolina player at midcourt. He raced down the floor wide open and got about 4 inches above the rim….and decided to do some sort of cute two-handed no backboard lay-in, which of course he missed. At that point, the Cats trailed 51-49. If just one of these go in, the Cats win the game.
– Late in the game, trailing again, the Cats turned to John Wall to save them. This time, though, Kentucky had dug a hole too deep and, despite and “And 1”, Wall couldn’t close the gap. Again, the focus on the interior seemed to handicap Wall some. They needed him to take over well before he did and after he got a thunderous dunk and a three to take a 44-42 lead, it looked like he might. They went straight back to the post, though, and Wall didn’t attack again until very late in the game.
– In what is becoming a recurring theme, Kentucky got nothing from the small forward position. Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins and Ramon Harris combined for 3 points, 1 assist and 7 rebounds. Even more alarming, they all struggled with their “roles” in addition to failing to have one person step up and play a complete game. Liggins and Harris struggled on defense, Dodson shot 1-5 and Darius Miller might not have been in the gym. If this team wants to be great, they have to get something from this position. And, as of now, “something” would be an improvement.
– For those of us who might have missed it when he dominated a backcourt of walkon types last year, we sure noticed tonight. Devan Downey one heck of a basketball player. Downey’s shot selection and efficiency left him just a few misses on his lucky heaves and bank shots away from a truly awful game, but he knocked down the ones that counted and kept the Cats on their heels throughout. The kid played hard and didn’t try to flaunt it with jersey popping or catering to the crowd. His team needed him to again play like a star to have a chance and he did exactly that. If you can’t respect that, then you aren’t a basketball fan. That being said, I hope we crush him when he comes to Rupp.
– On a positive note, the UK freshman superstar duo of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins entered the record books against South Carolina. Wall tied the UK freshman record for assists in a season with 126. He’s currently tied with Dirk Minnifield. Meanwhile, Cousins tied Chris Mills for the freshman record with his 11th double-double of the season.
– Also, DeMarcus Cousins has a devastating baseline move now. For a guy who struggled to find offensive game that didn’t involve just being tall enough to shoot over his opponent, that’s a major plus.
– During halftime, the Gamecock Blog reported on Twitter that Cousins tried to “rumble” with South Carolina fans as he walked to the locker room for the half. I have no idea if that is true or not.
In the end, this game means nothing. It’s a great win for a South Carolina team needing to improve their tournament resume and it’s 40 minutes of film for Kentucky to evaluate and learn from. When Kentucky goes back and looks at the video of this game, they’re going to be kicking themselves because they should have won. They held South Carolina to 34% shooting. They held them to only 4 three pointers. On a night where all the crazy bounces were going in for Devan Downey and Co. and when Kentucky missed layups and threw the ball away, they still had a chance to win at the end. Tonight was the exception to what has been and will be a pretty impressive rule and the Cats have to just shake this one off. Sometimes good teams just have bad games. Especially good teams that are very young.
I almost feel bad for Vandy on Saturday. Cal is going to have these guys on point.